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Defiance and Progress

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Part I: First Impressions

 

            Derek’s heart pounded as he sprinted down the street, glancing behind him to see if he was in the clear before twisting down yet another side alley. He wasn’t gasping for breath, but it was a near thing and he groaned when he saw the side alley was a dead end. Sighing, he measured the distance and jumped up, momentarily transforming his hands into claws to better snag the edge of the roof. Then he was up and running, slower now, not wanting to disturb those who lived or worked beneath his feet. Though he heard questioning mutters anyway. He would have to get off the roofs soon.           

            Derek didn’t know how he got himself into these things.

            He was too old for this. Really. Twenty-two was much too old to be playing what amounted to an advanced game of tag with his little sister. But what had started with annoying poking in the marketplace had led to a challenge and then Laura insisted that Cora could probably catch him in twenty minutes and now he found himself-

            Skidding to a stop as he finally saw what he needed: Water. A big trough of water. Big enough to dunk in and disguise his scent.

            He jumped in with little more thought than that and was dismayed to discover that it must have been some sort of rain water collection. That doubled as a water hole for animals. It wasn’t quite sewage water but the smell was enough to make him gag.

            Well, at least this would make it a hell of a lot more difficult for Cora to find him.

            He climbed out of the water and shook himself, taking a moment to glance around. In the height of the chase, he hadn’t bothered keeping the firmest grip on where he was going and it was time to start angling back towards the house. It had already been almost twenty minutes and he was going to need to get out of these clothes sooner rather than later.

            He didn’t instantly recognize any of the streets so he took a deeper breath, trying to smell something besides himself. But even accounting for his dunk, the smells around seemed to be dirty, bloody, saturated in fear and- Ah, slave market. There was a big slave trade this weekend. He must’ve stumbled onto th-

            “He totally came this way,” It was only because he knew to listen for it that he recognized Cora’s mutter down the street.

            She’s getting better, he thought, grinning a little. Briefly, he considered sprinting away- but she would be able to hear that easily and right now his scent was covered enough that if he stayed put, she might make the mistake of moving on too quickly. So he walked, calmly, nodding to those who were sort of staring at him (fair, he had just jumped from a roof into a glorified puddle) but everyone could still smell he was a werewolf, so most paid him no mind. Most probably assumed it was some type of training exercise. Or at least he hoped so.

            He needed a place to hide. He kept his eyes and nose open, just hoping to find-

            There. Storage pantry. Off a smaller alley. Not much smell was getting out- so thick door. Perfect for what he needed.

            He had just opened the door when he heard Cora’s angry growl that meant she had lost his scent so he was turned away and laughing when he stepped in and-

            Then the smell hit him and he was tripping and slamming the door shut because he wasn’t alone.

            It took all of a moment for Derek’s eyes to adjust and he cut off the warning growl that had risen in his chest because it was instantly obvious that there was no threat.

            It was a slave. The first thing Derek registered was that his heartbeat was completely out of control, beating in rapid, uneven beats to accompany his shallow gasps of breath. The stench of terror was so strong that Derek felt himself glance around for something dangerous before realized that he was probably what had the slave startled so badly.

            He looked back at the corner where the slave was standing, mouth twisting as he got a better look. The slave was blindfolded, some kind of rag tightly bound across his eyes, even though the room was dark enough that Derek though a human wouldn’t be able to see very clearly anyway. He was shirtless, hands tied behind his back, leaving his chest exposed.

            It was disgusting. Derek couldn’t help but stare. It was covered in dirt and grime and- Derek focused his eyes- no, the dark patch along the boy’s side was a bruise, not dirt. A huge, deep bruise clearly made by some sort of boot. Derek didn’t even know how long that would take to heal. It would take him about five minutes but humans were different.

            He didn’t think on it for long though because his eyes had already flashed to the most prominent feature of the slave’s chest, which for once wasn’t the number tattoo on the upper left chest that all slaves had: it was the scars. There were four ragged lines- werewolf claws, Derek’s mind supplied- that ran from above the boy’s collarbone to almost halfway down his chest. They curved over his shoulder on the right side and Derek wondered if they ran all along his back. They were healed over and pink, but not old yet. Not faded.

            The sight was horrifying, but it was the smells that had Derek’s stomach turning. It was all dirt, sweat, and blood. And though he obviously didn’t know all the nuances of this slave’s emotional scents, the overriding smells of fear and desperation were too clear not to pick up. Derek actually concentrated on his own water-logged smell just to try to avoi-

            “Alright, fucker,” the slave’s voice was hoarse and tired but angry. “I know you’re there. Let’s just get playtime over with, shall we?”

            “Uh,” Derek drew a complete blank on what to say. “I- I’m not-” his voice had come out higher than usual. He paused, planning on clearing his throat when the boy’s whole demeanor shifted. Derek hadn’t even realized how tense the slave was holding himself until he sagged, letting out a breath of air and sort of collapsing into the corner.

            “Oh, shit,” the boy breathed. “You’re not- fuck. You gotta announce that next time, man. Nearly gave me a heart attack.” The boy let out a relieved laugh and Derek could only blink. He had no idea what was happening. Luckily the boy was already moving, not waiting for a response. He took a step away from the corner, shoulder twitching like he had tried to reach out to put his hands out before remembering they were tied behind his back.

            The slave took a deep breath. “Dude, you stink. You smell like the fucking water hole. Didja fall in or someth-” The boy stopped himself so abruptly that Derek thought something was wrong.

            “Fuck- waterboarding? I didn’t know this group was into that. That… that sucks.”

            It finally hit Derek then. The boy thought he was another slave. Thrown in there as punishment. Though what the fuck was this kid talking about? Waterboarding? Wasn’t that like holding someone underwater? Who did that?

            “Uh,” Derek supplied again. He kept his voice higher than usual. Not that he was trying to deceive the slave but, at this point, what was he supposed to tell him? “Yeah.”

            “Fuck, dude, I’m so sorry,” the words were genuine, said softly and Derek shifted awkwardly. He opened his mouth to maybe say something but the slave was shaking his head. “Your throat must be killing you. Don’t worry about talking. I know that even I shut up for a few hours after that particular bout of fun. I think Scott was secretly kind of glad for the respite. You know, after he finished trying to glare everyone to death. I mean, not glad it happened but Scott takes his silver linings where he can get them. Besides I can talk enough for both of us.” The slave had drifted back towards his corner, giving Derek space, Derek realized, allowing Derek to have a personal zone to recover in. Derek didn’t need to recover and that just made his stomach twist with guilt. He also couldn’t follow half of what the kid was saying.

            “It’s nice just knowing someone is listening. I’m not good with silence. Hey, do you know what day it is?”

            “Wednesday,” Derek supplied. Then flinched as a wave of despair washed over the room.

            “Wednesday? You sure? Fuck,” the slave chewed on his bottom lip as he gingerly sat down again, long legs curled up as he rested in the corner. Derek stayed standing, awkwardly wondering what the hell he was supposed to do. “I thought it was Thursday for sure.” The boy seemed to wilt further before taking a breath and steeling himself. “Okay. Wednesday. Not bad. Just another like two days. Then Friday for clean-up. Sales on Saturday. Two days. That’s nothing.”

            For all that the slave seemed to be talking to himself, Derek felt the need to say something. If only because it didn’t smell like the pep talk had actually worked. The slave still smelled of defeat tinged with panic. Of course, he had no idea what to say so he settled on:

            “Clean up?”

            The distraction worked, because the boy’s head snapped up and tilted toward him.

            “Yeah, clean-up, you know. It’s what Scott and I call the whole-” the slave stopped again. “You’re new, aren’t you?” The question was asked softly, sadly and Derek told himself he should leave. This wasn’t right.

            “Yeah,” is what he said instead.

            “Oh, dude, uh- first sale or recently caught or- you know what, never mind. Don’t answer that. Shouldn’tve asked. I’m being freaking rude. Ignore me. Seriously- I’ve been in here too long.” The slave took a breath and focused. “Well, the sale’s on Saturday usually so Friday morning we all get hosed down- maybe even some soap if we’re in a rich area- and cleaned up to impress all our new beloved masters. It’s super exciting. Some of us will even get beautiful new haircuts. It’s like a day at the spa.”

            The grin that accompanied the sarcastic words was bitter and angry. For a moment, Derek wondered what the slave would say if he realized that Derek was a werewolf. That, in all likelihood, his family would be picking up a few new slaves this weekend.

            But we don’t treat them like this, Derek assured himself. This is ridicul-

            “Oh, pro-tip,” the slave continued. “If you can, steal some extra bread at breakfast on Friday. They never bother feeding us dinner that night. Or Saturday morning. Plus they won’t risk beating you if they catch you so it’s really the only time I’d suggest it.” The slave shrugged one shoulder. “Of course, everyone will be doing it but… worth a try, right?”

            Derek had been looking at the slave’s face, trying to catch the flashed of movement he could see despite the blindfold and avoiding staring at the scars out of politeness but he glanced down again. And now that he knew to focus on it, he realized how skinny the slave was. How he could easily count all his ribs and how his collar bones jutted out from his chest.

            “Once heard of a guy who managed to steal enough to last for like four days. Somehow got string and sorta… lined his pants with them. Somehow.” Again his shoulders twitched as if he were trying to motion with his hands. “Kept them all through the sale but then knew he couldn’t keep them through the inspection from his buyer so he tried to eat like… all five loafs at once. He ended up yakking all over his new owner.” The boy was grinning and for no reason at all, Derek felt himself smile back. It was sort of funny.

             “Of course, I’m sure he got beat within an inch of his life,” the slave was still smiling somehow. “But… imagine the look on their faces. Totally worth it. I bet I could do it. Hell, with how long I’ve been stuck in here, give me two loafs and I’m sure I could projectile vomit over this whole place.”

             Derek’s smile had dropped away. He didn’t like that idea.

             “I don’t think you should-” he kept his voice higher than normal but the concern wasn’t faked at all. The slave laughed outright.

            “Don’t worry,” the teen said. “Scott would never let me do it. Hey! Do you know Scott?”

            “Err,”

            “101487,” the slave continued. “My age, dark hair- super fucking nice to everyone even when he shouldn’t be.”

            “No, I don’t think so,” Derek replied, glancing down at the numbers on the boy’s chest. 101539- they must be from the same area. Brothers?

            “Yeah, you would know him if you met him. We were over in Pen 2.” The boy went quiet for a moment, head tilted down instead of its usual upwards angle. “If you get out before me, could you… could you tell him I’m fine? Tell him I’m… you know, not dead. He’s probably worried sick. Or he thinks I’m dead. That would be… just let him know I’m okay, alright? Picture of perfect health and all.”

            Derek frowned. The boy did not look like he was the picture of perfect health. He certainly didn’t smell like it. But, Derek supposed that a human wouldn’t be able to hear the lie anyway.

            “Sure,” Derek said. Even though he probably wouldn’t be able to. “Uh- what’s your name?”

            “Oh!” the slave’s head snapped back up and Derek could see the faint blush that rose before it was swallowed by the blindfold. “Shit! Sorry! I’m Stiles.”

            “Stiles?”

            “Yeah… well it’s a nickname. My real first name is horrific. I’m pretty sure only my Mom could actually say it properly so Stiles just works better for everyone involved.”

            The smell of grief that laced the air told Derek that the slave’s – Stiles’ – mother was dead. For some ridiculous reason he wanted to say he was sorry, or ask how it happened, or when, but he didn’t. Because he wasn’t really a slave and it felt too much like prying.

            “You?” Stile’s asked and Derek froze.

            “Miguel,” he blurted and then rolled his eyes at himself, grateful that Stiles couldn’t see the look of horror that passed over his own face. Where the hell had he come up with that name? What was he thinking?

            “Cool,” Stiles bobbed his head in a nod and shifted a bit. He smelled uncomfortable. And… embarrassed? Derek needed to get out of here. But he couldn’t just walk out. This was the worst. And all Cora’s fault. He was never being tricked into such a silly little ga-

            “Hey,” Stiles’ voice broke into his thoughts and Derek started. Then he took another sniff to double check that the sudden embarrassment that flooded the room wasn’t something else. It wasn’t. “Sooo… this is super embarrassing but would you mind doing me a favor?”

            “Uh… okay?” Derek made it a question.

            “Okay so, the thing is,” Stiles shifted again, leaning against the wall as he stood slowly, gasping a little. “This is… fucking awful but I- I really have to pee.”

            The last words were rushed and quiet and if Derek wasn’t a werewolf, he might not have caught them. Which was fortunate as the word that popped out of his mouth was:

            “What?” It was even lower- closer to his regular voice- but luckily Stiles didn’t seem to catch the sudden drop in tone.

            “I really have to pee,” Stiles repeated. “And it turns out that having your hands tied up behind your back is really, really sucky for getting your pants down. And I thought that instead of just… you know, fucking up my only pair of pants, maybe since you’re here you could… help?”

            Derek didn’t say anything. Because he felt sick- not at the idea of helping Stiles but at the thought that this would be a concern for people. It was… it was inhuman and who exactly was running these slave auctions? Were all of them like this? Shouldn’t someone put a stop to this?

            “Uh- Miguel?” Stiles asked and Derek realized he’d been seething for too long. Stiles was shifting back and forth a little. “Look, I know this is fucking weird and when you first walked in, I was so startled that I think it… went back in a little? Is that possible? But anyway… it’s kinda back now- and I promise it’s not number 2 or anything so if you could decide sooner rather than later, it would really help me out.”

            “Yeah,” Derek grunted. “Yeah. Sure. Sorry. I mean, of course. No problem.”

            The smell of relief that washed over Stiles made Derek’s stomach twist.

            “Dude. You’re the best. Thanks,” Stiles took a step forward. “Mind leading me to the corner that’s covered when the door opens? Don’t need to get blamed at for peeing in the middle of the pantry.”

            Derek moved forward and then stopped as he came up to Stile’s side.

            He had found the source of the scent of blood.

            Stile’s back was covered in welts. Some were thick bruises but some were open cuts, still oozing, looking raw and maybe infected.

            Derek felt sick.

            “Hey,” Stiles said, perhaps sensing his gaze. “They look worse than they are. And don’t worry- belts are saved for real idiots like me. Bad investment strategy. Won’t happen to you.” Derek heard the slight uptick in Stile’s heart, not big enough to be a full-on lie but enough that Derek knew Stile’s didn’t really believe what he was saying. Even though Stiles wasn’t lying. It never would happen to Derek. Because Derek wasn’t human. Even if it did, his would have healed by now.

            Derek shook himself and gently grabbed Stile’s arm, wishing he didn’t notice the slight flinch that ran through it even though Stiles had been ready for him. Then he kept his eyes resolutely on his destination, trying not to think about the smells of blood, pain, and shame coming off Stiles. He needed to get out of here.

            The corner was only a few shuffling steps away- diagonal from where Stile was sitting- and he pulled Stiles up short and then hesitated.

            “Just go for it,” Stiles said and he was trying to keep his voice light, like this was no big deal, but Derek could feel how tense he was even if he weren’t a werewolf.

            “Don’t worry,” Derek replied, gently grabbing the hem of Stiles’ pants. “I’ll close my eyes.”

            Stiles barked a bitter laugh at that. “Don’t bother. I’m not sure I have any modesty left in me, Miggy-boy.” Derek’s claws almost popped out in distress but he held them back. He still closed his eyes, pulling down the slave’s pants until they tangled around his knees, noticing Stiles relax as he stepped back as soon as he was done.

            Then he frowned. “Uh- do you need me to…” he trailed off. How had his day come to this? He had just offered to hold another man’s penis while he peed in a corner.

            This time Stile’s laugh was more genuine.

            “Christ, you are new, aren’tcha?” Stiles said. “Haven’t even learned to pee while tied up. Take it from a master, Miguel, it’s all about angles.”

            Derek didn’t watch exactly, but he cut his eyes over to Stiles’ general direction enough to see him squirm out of his pants a little more, then lean forward so his head was against the wall and his body was slanted enough so that his pants were safe and then-

            Derek looked away, staring at the wall of food and water and making a point to read as many of the labels as he could.

            Then Stiles coughed a little and he was clearly done and Derek went over and dragged the boy’s pants up as quick as he could without being rough and was it weird that he could tell that he was dehydrated just from the smell?

            He helped Stiles back to his corner and winced in sympathy as Stiles slowly sat down again and gingerly placed his back on the stone. To his dismay, Stiles seemed to be fading- either because his bladder was no longer full enough to keep him awake or because the short movement had wearied him. Probably both.

            “Thanks,” Stiles said. “Sorry you had to do that but… thanks. Feel loads better now.”

            “Do you want some water?” Derek asked, reaching to grab one of the bottles lying on the shelf.

            Stile’s eyes snapped open from where they had fallen shut and he jerked forward.

            “No!” Derek snatched his hand away as if Stiles could see him. “Jesus, Miguel! Fuck, do you want to get killed? Don’t touch anything!”

            “Right!” Derek said, glad his voice was high and embarrassed enough that he must’ve sounded like an naïve slave. “Sorry! Sorry! I… forgot.”

            “Shit,” Stiles said, but he was sinking back into his corner. “You nearly gave me a heart attack. Dude, I don’t know who your owner was before or what your story is but you’ve got to be smarter now. You’re gonna get destroyed out there.” Stiles managed to sound stern even as his eyes slid closed again.

            “Sorry,” Derek said again.

            “ ‘snot your fault,” Stiles muttered, shaking his head. “Fucking werewolves. Just… be careful. If you get out of here, find Scott. He’ll help you out. Idiot helps everybody.”

            “Okay,” Derek said but from the sound of Stiles’ breathing, he was already out.

            Derek waited a few minutes, staring, memorizing what he could of Stiles’ face. Then when he was sure Stiles was truly asleep, he walked over, using all his werewolf abilities to make no noise.

            He was leaving, Derek told himself. But first he gently placed a hand on Stiles’ shoulder and focused until his veins turned black and leeched as much pain out of Stiles’ as he could. He sensed Stiles’ sink into an even deeper sleep. Which was his plan all along. Of course.

            Then he stood and silently opened the door and left.

            He didn’t think about Stiles on the way home. He didn’t think about how he would wake up alone in that room or the wounds on his back or the scars on his chest. He just walked home. And when Cora tackled him outside of his front gate, looking peeved that she had lost the bet and begrudgingly impressed by him, he forced a smile on his face and didn’t say anything about where he’d been other than: “Around.”

*^*^*^

            “This was a bad idea,” Stiles muttered, leg jerking up and down with nervous energy. He went to run a hand over his face, only stopped because Scott reached over and grabbed him.

            “Don’t touch,” Scott said, frowning at Stile’s face. Right. Stiles left eye was still half swollen shut and the bruise covered a good quarter of his face. “And, it was a good idea.”

            Stiles somehow managed to nod his thanks and shake his head in disagreement in the same movement, but kept his mouth closed. Scott was wrong. Well, not wrong, Scott never did anything wrong but in this case, he was incorrect. They should have never planned to get sold again. This was a mistake. They were going to get separated.

            “We should’ve stayed,” Stiles said, not for the first time. In fact, he had been saying it for the whole week, minus the three days he’d been trapped alone. He had said it almost the moment they had both been put up for sale.

            “We weren’t staying there,” Scott said firmly and his big earnest eyes practically dared Stiles to disagree. Stiles looked away first, ducking his head and then looking out towards the street.

            It was Friday. Show day. The morning had been spent getting a quick, cold bath and then throwing back on pants still damp from their quick wash. Stiles glanced towards Scott, revealed to see that his friend looked more or less clean and healthy. The wash had done him good, given him the opportunity to scrub away the dirt and tame his hair away from his face.

            It hadn’t done any good for Stiles. He knew that. All it did for him was reopen at least two of the cuts on his back and make it obnoxiously obvious how many bruises littered his face and torso. That combined with the just-healed scar that tore across his chest… well, Stiles wasn’t under any illusions that he was going to be bought by anyone with good intentions.

            His stomach rumbled, causing Scott to glance over and immediately reach for the bread he had stashed behind them. Luckily Scott had managed to grab extra this morning. Especially since Stiles had barely managed to get any as a shove to his back had him on the ground gasping.

            “Nah, don’t bother,” Stiles told Scott, going for a grin. He was skinny. Too skinny. An extra slice of bread wouldn’t help him. But if Scott ate it right before the auction…

            “Stiles. Eat it,” Scott commanded. And then when Stiles’ opened his mouth to refuse, Scott turned on the puppy eyes- wide and concerned and pleading and Stiles grabbed it and shoved it into his mouth. Scott should not be allowed to have eyes like that. Or at least he should have outgrown them. For as long as he could remember, Stiles had been giving into those eyes, which had only grown stronger as they got older.

            Oh, god, Stiles thought, forcing himself to keep his eyes on the street where werewolves were meandering past, some calling to slaves to step forward for closer inspection. What if he never saw Scott again?

            He wasn’t going to. This was it. This was probably their last day together. Stiles knew that. Scott was healthy and good-looking enough to probably end up with someone who needed a house slave. Or a laborer. Or maybe he could turn on those eyes and end up as some kind of skilled labor.

            And Stiles… Stiles knew where he was ending up. He was young enough that werewolves would still want him and used enough that they wouldn’t have to bother keeping him healthy. He knew that. And it was awful, not for obvious reasons but because he would die if Scott was sold to the same type of place, but life without Scott was unimaginable.

            Stiles swallowed and stopped from vomiting through sheer force of will. Couldn’t waste the bread.

            They shouldn’t have had done it. They had been lucky for these past 6 years, similar enough in age and skill that they had managed to be sold together through private sale twice and had made it through two auctions. They never should have risked it again. They were going to be split up.

            “Stiles.” Sometimes Stiles thought Scott was a werewolf, because the kid always seemed to know when he was on the verge of a panic attack. “Calm down.”

            “We shouldn’t’ve left,” Stiles said.

            “We had to leave,” Scott told him. “There wasn’t an option.”

            That was a lie. There was an option. Leave it as it was. Scott thought that Stiles couldn’t take it, maybe he thought the time with the claws was the first time, but it wasn’t. Stiles had been dealing with it for months before that (years, if you counted other things), keeping the bruises and bleeding carefully away from Scott, forcing himself to act normal. He had it under control. He could have kept it up.

            But then their master, Matt, had to go and get violent- well, more violent than usual- and claw him nearly in half even though Stiles had been being good.

            But that didn’t matter. Because Scott had seen and Scott and figured it out and Scott had told him they were leaving, not with puppy eyes but in a clear voice of anger and command that Stiles, still making a half-hearted effort to stop the bleeding on his own, hadn’t even thought to argue.

            It wouldn’t have done any good. Stiles knew all the many faces and voices of Scott McCall and he knew there was no arguing with that tone. That was the I am going to stitch you up right now tone; the Yes, we will be sharing our food with the girl in the next cell tone; the I’m going to take the blame for the boy who tried to escape last night and get beat to within an inch of my life tone. You couldn’t fight it. But Stiles should have tried.

            Not that Stiles ever argued with Scott very much. It rarely did any good because Scott was always right. And it went against his orders.

            “Stiles,” His Dad was hugging him, tightly, too tightly and Stiles had mistaken it for comfort at first. Because Stiles was sobbing that Scott was going to be sold, the blur around his eyes maybe a result of his sprint back from Melissa’s house, maybe the start of a panic attack and it was his father. So comfort made sense.

            “He’s l-leaving,” Stiles said again, unsure what he really wanted his father to do about it, only knowing that Scott couldn’t leave. Scott was his brother. Scott was there for him and he made Stiles laugh and wasn’t mad when Stiles got them in trouble and-

            “Stiles,” his dad said, still squeezing him. “You’ve got to… you’ve got to go with him.”

            The words hadn’t made any sense- or maybe Stiles hadn’t heard them- but suddenly his dad was letting him go.

            “You have to go with him, son,” his dad said again, sounding strangled himself. “Scott… Scott can’t be alone. You’re the only one who can.”

            “What’re you-” Stiles choked, but the tears were already stopping, more out of shock than anything. “What… I can’t. He’s being sold.

            His dad was moving, opening a cabinet of their small cottage, grabbing a packet that Stiles was never allowed to even touch and-

            And suddenly it made sense.

            His dad knelt in front of him.

            “You two can stick together,” his dad said, shoving the small packet into Stiles’ hands and closing Stiles fist when he failed to do so. “You can get sold at the same time and stick together. You know how right?”

            “Y-yeah,” Stiles said, feeling numb. “B-but… Dad?” This was too fast. He loved Scott. He wanted to go with Scott but- his dad would stay here.

            “I’ll take care of Melissa,” his dad said. “She’ll want you to be with him. You want to be with him, right?”

            “I can’t!” Stiles said, terror rising in his chest. He couldn’t. Mom was dead. Dad would be alone and he-

            “I’ll be okay, kid,” and even then, even at twelve, Stiles saw that for the lie it was. But he saw the strength in his father’s eyes as well, the determination. “You and Scott… you two need to take care of each other. You’re brothers. Brothers need to stick together.”

            His dad grabbed him again, hugging him with the same intensity and that’s when Stiles realized: it wasn’t comfort. It was goodbye.

            Stiles clung back. He didn’t argue because there was no argument, but he clung and tears slid down his cheeks and then soon, too soon, it was over.

            “Go,” his dad said, standing. “Go and be good. Hurry.”

            Stiles had stumbled towards the door. He had to move fast. He knew that. The buyer was already there. They had already grabbed Scott from his mother. But he hesitated.

            “Don’t get into trouble,” His dad said, trying for a smile as he rubbed his hand through Stiles’ hair. “Well, try not to. Listen to Scott. Go.”

            “I-I,” Stiles stuttered. “Dad-”

            “I love you too, Stiles.”

            Stiles turned and ran.

            Even then, his dad had known the truth of their relationship. Scott, despite being raising for a time by a father who oscillated between verbally and physically abusive, was innocent. Pure goodness in a way that Stiles, with his love of pranks and rebellion, would never be. They needed each other, Stiles knew. Stiles’ job was to protect Scott, to keep him safe and good and happy. And healthy. Can’t forget that. And, Scott…. Scott was there to be Stiles’ conscience. Stiles had long since collapsed his idea of family into just the two of them. Scott kept it open, encouraging them to care for the weaker and younger slaves, continuing to do selfless deeds just because they were the right thing to do.

            How was Stiles supposed to keep Scott safe if he wasn’t there?

            “Stiles, we’re gonna be okay,” Scott said,  smiling and nudging Stiles gently with his shoulder even though they were already plastered next to each other. “Same buyer.”

            Stiles nodded mutely.

            “And…” A look of concern flashed over Scott’s face. “And, if not, we have a plan. We get sold again in three weeks.”

            Stiles snorted. That was a miserable plan.

            “That’s assuming both our new owners live in the area. And will sell through the auction rather than privately. And what if you have a nice owner who doesn’t even sell you-”

            “Stiles,” Scott said, sounding calm and in control. “Three weeks. If we’re not together. Three weeks.

            “It’s- That’s-” Stiles flailed a hand uselessly, unable to find the words.

            “I’ll be here,” Scott said firmly. “I promise. And then three weeks after that, if I have to. And onwards.”

            And that settled it. Because if Scott would be here than Stiles would be here. Or he would die trying.

            “Okay,” Stiles was embarrassed at the relief that coursed through his body. They would figure it out. Scott would figure it out. Scott was always right. “I’ll be here too.”

            Scott grinned at him, all joy and thankfulness and warmth and, despite it all, Stiles felt himself smile back.

 

*^*^*^

 

            Derek glared at anyone who came too close to him, grateful beyond belief that Jennifer was there with him to do the actual bidding and talking and verifying.

            He was glad it was Jennifer. The head cook for their household was known for being fair and kind, but understanding most of all. That meant that she could sense when you didn’t want to talk. Which for Derek, was fairly often. As he thought of it, Laura and Cora did enough talking for the whole younger generation of Hales. Jennifer knew that. When he went to the kitchens at random times, she was comfortable enough to just stick a plate of food in front of him, give him a fond pat on the shoulder and let him be.

            His whole family had been abuzz with questions when he had volunteered to accompany Jennifer on her trip to the slave auction. As a human, Jennifer obviously needed a werewolf supervisor, though usually the job fell to his mother, who seemed to always know exactly what she was looking for in her additions to the household staff. But Derek had volunteered and Talia had agreed after a long look and everyone else had asked questions to which Derek had merely shrugged.

            If Cora realized that his decision came after their trip through the market earlier this week, she didn’t say anything.

            “Your mother said we need at least two boys and a girl,” Jennifer finally said as they entered the market. She then handed Derek a piece of paper and a pen. He grunted and raised his eyes. Maybe he should have asked his mother what she normally did before coming.

            “Write down the numbers of who you want,” she told him. “Then you can sit back and let me get them.”

            Derek jerked his head in a nod. It seemed so simple.

            “I’ll be over there,” Jennifer said, pointed towards the area that had already been set up for people to sit while they bid. “I- I prefer not to look around if I can avoid it.”

            Derek blinked and focused for a moment on her scent. The woman smelled mostly calm, but there was an air of discomfort and sadness that made Derek grimace.

            “Auction starts in about an hour,” she said as she turned to walk off. “Be on time- it moves pretty quickly!”

            Then she was gone through the crowd and Derek was left standing there with a pen and a piece of paper and no idea what he was doing.

            Other werewolves were milling around as well, staring and sniffing at the cages. As Derek watched, an elderly beta signaled for a slave to come forward and casually reached out to press into his chest while the slave stood there silently.

            Derek looked away and headed to Pen 2.

            He was breathing through his mouth, he realized- the overwhelming scent of the place was cheap soap, but the undercurrent was all nerves, fear, and hunger. He hated it. He hated it with everything in his being and he didn’t understand how his mother could stand to come every three months or so. It was like-

            There.

            Stiles.

            Derek came to a stop while still a distance away, for some reason fearing that Stiles might recognize him even though that was impossible. Instead, he squinted ever so slightly, willing his eyesight to become sharper to he could see.

            Stiles was along the back of the pen, sitting with one leg propped up, the other stretched out, head tilted towards a boy who was sitting close enough that their legs and shoulders were pressed together.

            Scott, Derek’s mind supplied, not even bothering to check the boy’s number to make sure he was right. He was. There was no mistaking the sense of familiarity and ease the two shared. For a moment, Derek thought he could smell the fondness and love that had wafted off Stiles before.

            Both seemed to be ignoring the crowd in favor of grinning and talking to each other so Derek moved closer, attempting to act like he was looking at all the slaves in the pen equally. And that he was comfortable. Or at least not absolutely disgusted.

            “I still say it’s your fault,” Stiles was saying. Derek was close enough now to see the bruise that covered the side of his face and smell the raw nerves that emanated from both boys, although they appeared casual.

            “No it wasn’t,” Scott said, sounding only fond and a bit embarrassed. “She was wearing grey pants! Dirty grey!”

            “They were like silk or something!” Stiles responded and Derek knew this was an old argument. “The material was shiny- they probably cost more than both of us combined!”

            “Grey is grey, Stiles. And they were baggy.”

            “So anyone wearing baggy, grey pants is entitled to our food?” Stiles said. “If we followed that rule, we would literally starve to death.”

            “She was six!” Scott said, waving his hands hopelessly. “She was six and she asked. You would have given her the food too.”

            “No, I would not have,” Stiles said, grinning. “I’m the smart one. I would have noticed that she was wearing rich people pants and that, I don’t know, she was a freaking werewolf!

            “There was no way for me to know that,” Scott said. “Besides… she was cute.”

            “Oh God,” Stiles groaned. “You don’t even feel bad, do you?”

            Scott started to shake his head, but Stiles cut him off.

            “We got nothing but water for four days for ‘being ungrateful and wasting food’ and you would probably do it again.”

            “Not if I knew she was a werewolf!” Scott said. “I mean… unless maybe she was like a neglected werewolf? Do they have those?”

            “I hate you,” Stiles informed Scott. “I really do.”

            There was a pause where Scott just smiled and Stiles rolled his eyes and the smell of love between the two was overwhelming. And Derek cringed because the smell of terror had increased as well, as if both slaves had just realized they might not see each other again.

            Derek double checked their numbers (even though he had already committed them to memory) and wrote them down.

            As he turned to walk to find a suitable girl, he heard Scott point out:

            “Hey! At least we got as much water as we wanted for those four days!”

            Stiles groaned.

 

*^*^

 

            Jennifer had simply nodded as he handed her the list, informing him that he had to stay but that most werewolves had slaves to handle the actually bidding process so he was free to sit back and just watch. Derek was grateful as the whole morning had him on edge. His head ached from the unpleasant smells and occasionally laughter from werewolves, which seemed out of place and he just… he just hated everyone right now. He hated all the werewolves he saw and hated that the other masters and slaves that saw him assumed he was the same way.

            And he wasn’t. His family wasn’t. Hale slaves were treated well. They were given at least three sets of clothes, their own bed, and allowed to shower daily. They certainly weren’t beaten. They were respected. They were happy. Jennifer, who ran the huge kitchen of the house like it was her own, was known for smiling and tutting and scolding the Hale children as if they were her own. Deaton, who was the head of the extensive gardens of the house, was often seen deep in consultation with his mother, the two chatting away like old friends about the benefits of certain flowers or herbs. Even Harris, the head of their household, who Derek personally thought was too stuffy and pompous for his own good, had received a formal apology from Cora whenever their mother discovered one of Cora's more destructive pranks.

            And he knew that not everyone treated their slaves like this. He could remember when Isaac had first arrived and had flinched and finally asked if he was going to be locked in a freezer if he didn’t behave. But that had been years ago, when Isaac was only 6 and Derek was 12 and he had assumed that that type of treatment was a rare case. That most werewolves treated their slaves like the Hales did and it was the rare outlier who was abusive and cruel.

            However, based on the scent of the slaves and the occasional snippets of conversation Derek heard…. He was no longer so sure. There was just an overall sense of… calm disinterest emanating through the werewolves that made him feel like he was the only one paying attention.

            Then the actual auction began and Derek clenched his fists hard enough that he broke the skin of his palms without even shifting his hands into claws. One slave at a time was brought up to the podium, made to spin in a circle, then forced to kneel (though it looked like few bothered resisting), and then the bidding began. All while the announcer, in a disgustingly nasal voice, talked about perceived strengths of the slave in an effort to drive the price up.

            The girl had come up first- she was about 14 with a sweet smile who smelled terrified but endearingly hopeful somehow. Her eyes stayed firmly on the ground but since Derek knew his mother was planning on getting Cora her first lady’s maid, he hoped this girl’s sweet nature would balance Cora out. Perhaps even calm her down a little. Of course, he had no idea what she was actually like but he had gone with his gut and that was that. Jennifer had bid on her smoothly and had flashed him a smile when she was finished. Derek hadn’t been able to return it as his mouth was still twisted in a grimace from hearing the announcer say: “Give her a few years, gentlemen, I’m sure she’ll grow a bit more.”

            Scott was next- almost an hour later. The announcer stayed focused on how well muscled he was, perfect for outdoor labor but if Scott heard any of it, Derek couldn’t tell. The slave didn’t bother to keep his eyes down, instead continuing to crane his head back towards the line to look for someone. It wasn’t inherently defiant and Scott looked no more than unfocused and slightly bored but Derek saw them force him to his knees with more force than necessary and shove his head down. Scott looked back up at them with his face in a frown of judgment if that were possible. But it made Jennifer chuckle a little bit to herself and Derek was pleased to see that so far Jennifer seemed to agree with his choices.

            Then, after another excruciating wait, Stiles’ number was called.

            “Well, look what we have here,” the announcer started and Derek tensed. His voice was already coy and suggestive and it was only made worse when Stiles was all but dragged to the stage. The bruises and scars somehow looked worse than they had before, standing out when compared with the other slaves who were cleaned up and relatively unharmed. “This is a pretty little thing, isn’t it?”

            The werewolf who had dragged Stiles out forced him into the turn when Stiles didn’t start it on his own, spinning him around quickly before slamming him to his knees.

            “A little used, yes,” the announcer was saying. “But, he sure looks good on his knees, doesn’t he?”

            There were a few chuckles from the crowd and Derek flinched as the scent of arousal hit his nose. When he looked back up, Stiles had recovered from being shoved down and was glaring at the announcer and the crowd. His jaw was clenched and angry and Derek thought he could smell the hatred from where he sat. The handler went to force his head down but Stiles flinched, jerking his head away.

            “And, look,” the announcer cooed. “He’s still got a bit of fight in him too!”

            Despite the apparent praise, the man still started the bidding at $50, the lowest so far.

            Out of the corner of his eye, Derek saw Jennifer frown at the sheet of paper in front of her, doubtless checking that she had the right one.

            “Get him,” Derek growled.

            “Are you sure?” Jennifer whispered. “He looks-”

            “Get him,” Derek repeated. He didn’t need to be told how Stiles’ looked. He looked defiant and in pain and angry and Derek told himself that he would buy him and then he could finally stop thinking about the stupid slave.

            Jennifer didn’t ask any more questions, simply pursed her lips and raised her hand and the bidding was done mercifully soon.

            Derek stood up immediately. There. It was over.

            “We’ll need to go around back to pay and pick them up,” Jennifer informed him, an air of disapproval and confused still hovering around her. He was content to follow her around the podium and main pens and stand where she pointed.

            “I’ll go pay at that desk there,” she said. “Wait here and watch for them. They’ll bring them to that holding pen there. It can take a little while to get them from their various cells or whatnot.”

            Derek nodded and stood off to the side, keeping his eyes pointed towards the pen while trying not to be too obvious. There were a few other werewolves standing about, but not many as the day was still fairly early.

            Scott arrived first, frowning and cocking his head as if he was trying to hear if Stiles’ number had been called yet. He didn’t pace, but he shifted back and forth, occasionally chewing on his thumbnail waiting for-

            “Scott!” Stiles’ call came from when he was still far off and Derek saw Scott’s face break into something too bright to be called a smile. It was absolute delight and it was mirrored on Stiles’ face.

             “Stiles!” Scott said, voice high pitched and excited. Derek watched as Stiles all but ran to the cage and the two boys threw themselves at each other. Their embrace was immediate and intense and Derek saw at least one cut reopen on Stiles’ back but the only scent Derek could smell was raw relief.

            “Told ya!” Scott said after a long moment, hitting Stiles playfully in the shoulder. “I told you it would work out!”

            “Oh shut up,” Stiles replied, but his grin seemed to stretch even wider and he pulled Scott in for another hug.

            “I’m always right,” Scott said, pulling back to bounce around excitedly. Derek thought he looked about ready to burst from excitement. “I knew it! I’m the best. Say I’m the best.”

            To Derek, it looked like the wave of relief had left Stiles’ almost weaker in its wake. Still, “you’re the best,” he dutifully repeated. And there was no change in his heartbeat to say it was a lie.

            “You’re the best, you’re always right, and I should always listen to you,” Stiles repeated as Scott sort of danced around him. Scott nodded happily next to him. “Though,” Stiles continued. “We’ve probably just been bought by some kind of cult. Werewolf cult. That eats people. Slowly. For cult sacrifice.”

            “Nope,” Scott said, shaking his head. “We’ve already proven I’m always right and I say it’s going to be fine. So it will be!”

            “Hmm,” Jennifer said from next to Derek and Derek felt himself jump. He had been paying too much attention to the new slaves. He had probably been staring. Luckily, both were still too enthralled with each other to even bother looking around yet.

            “He’s too skinny,” Jennifer said and Derek frowned. It was true, yes, Stile’s ribs were almost all clearly visible and his hip bones jutted out and he looked ready to collapse at any second but-

            “He’ll have to work in the kitchens at least at first,” Jennifer continued. “And see a doctor for those cuts.”

            Derek stared at her for a second, though her eyes were still firmly on the two boys. She was watching with an air of cautious fondness and Derek felt relief wash through him. She had decided to approve. She would take care of Stiles.

            “You did a good job,” she said. “I wasn’t sure but… but this was good.”

            Derek nodded his thanks and turned back to the boys, who now, it seemed, were deep in an argument about the best meal they’d ever had. Derek wasn’t sure how they got there. But it was over and they would go home and Derek could stop thinking about all this.

            It was done.

 

*^*^*^

 

            Stiles was suspicious.

            He didn’t bother keeping it from his face either, which was already earning him some part-pitying, part-disapproving looks from everyone. This was fine with him. Those looks needed to be directed at him, not Scott. That was always step one of entering a new house. Make sure that everyone disliked him and loved Scott. It really wasn’t that hard to accomplish. And if looking suspicious was the trick in this house, Stiles was happy

            Besides, it wasn’t like he was faking the suspicion. He was well and truly positive that this was too good to be true. Well, as good as a life of slavery could get anyway.

            It had started when they were picked up by a matronly human – Jennifer Grant the cook, his brain supplied because Stiles didn’t forget people – and a dark-haired, angry looking werewolf – Derek Hale (he never added the “Master”; not in his head) – who seemed content to let the human do all the talking.

            Stiles had blatantly stared, frowning as he tried to get a read on the situation. Scott had already anointed himself the girl’s- Heather’s- protector with an overly enthusiastic handshake and stood ready to move if she was injured in any way, but Stiles knew Scott was still riding the joy of being together to properly assess anyone. Scott pretty much always failed at judging people. His conclusions were always positive.

            So Stiles had stared and actually made eye contact with Derek Hale and when he had decided to just fuck it and keep staring, it was Derek who looked away first. The werewolf had flicked his eyes over Stiles in a disapproving manner and his face had twisted in an even deeper frown but he had looked away. Stiles didn’t necessary see arousal there, it was more disgust but his gut had still clenched at the scrutiny. Disgust didn’t necessarily keep people away. He knew that.

            Still, it was suspicious that Derek didn’t verbally berate him for looking at him so obviously. And then Jennifer had informed them that the traditional strip search wouldn’t be necessary. Which actually made Stiles forget to glare for a moment because Scott already had his pants halfway down (probably to make the girl less embarrassed by going first) and his friend actually blushed and stammered an apology as he dragged his pants back up. Stiles had laughed before he remembered to stop himself.

            He hadn’t been disciplined for that either. Instead, Jennifer had simply pursed her lips as if to stop from smiling and started walking.

            It only got more suspicious from there. Stiles had managed to coordinate a trip next to where he and Scott had hid their meager possessions and snatch them back, shoving the tiny bag into the inner pants pocket he had meticulously sewn in. He didn’t get hit for that either. Jennifer frowned and Derek looked… well, he couldn’t actually tell how Derek looked. But he had put his head down and looked suitably apologetic and terrified and they had kept going. Scott was even smart enough to not reach over for a high five as he realized what Stiles had done. The boy had learned some sense along the way.

            Then there was the ride to the house, well estate really, where they were allowed to sit in seats and Jennifer told them a short history of the Hale estate. Then they were shown to their room, which was to house Stiles, Scott, and someone named Isaac where they each had their own bed. And there were a total of five beds in the room so they even got to choose which they wanted. Stiles glared Scott into the corner and took the one closest to the door.

            They each had a trunk and just as Stiles thought they that was incredibly stupid because there was nothing to put in the trunk (he had already stashed their bag in the pillowcase), they were taken to a room and told to find three sets of clothing that fit. Including underwear. And it wasn’t grey but a light blue that was actually soft to the touch and that’s about when Stiles decided that something was seriously wrong with the Hales. There was a catch here, he knew. And he could tell that by Scott’s increasingly surprised glances that even Scott could sense something was wrong. Then they were each given a pair of shoes and Scott looked downright worried.

            He didn’t like it, he decided as they stood in the small slave’s dining room waiting for the head of the household. Slaves weren’t meant to be treated like this. There was a catch.

            “Ah, here you are,” the voice came from a man who arrived through the door. He was wearing a crisp blue suit, standing overly straight, and managing to look down at all of them. Stiles hated him instantly. It was a relief.

            “Welcome to the Hale Household,” the man continued. “If you hope to remain here, you will be expected to perform all tasks to the best of your ability, respect the house and the grounds in all ways, and, of course, obey all members of the Hale family promptly and faithfully.”

            Stiles looked down so he could roll his eyes. He hated these people, the slaves who pretended they had some kind of say in their lives. The man probably loved the Hales, probably thought they loved him because he was their good little lapdog. Pathetic.

            He must not have hid his disgust as well as he thought, or maybe it was simply the bruise that took over half his face or maybe Stiles was just automatically despised by figures of authority, but regardless when he looked back up, the man was glaring at him. Stiles tried smiling. The glare turned into disgust.

            “I am Mr. Harris,” the man continued. “Head of the household here at Hale Manor.”

            There’s a tongue twister, Stiles thought, struggling to remain serious. This was all so ridiculous.

            “You may call me Mr. Harris or sir. Understood?”

            “Yes, sir,” Scott and Heather repeated dutifully. Stiles was a beat behind. Harris definitely hated him already.

            “Should you happen upon members of the Hale family, you will refer to them as Master or Mistress. Include their first name if it is not the alpha or her husband.”

            Stiles was bored. He could feel his attention wavering. It was only made worse when Harris turned to Heather.

            “You will be a lady’s maid for Mistress Cora. For the first few days, you will be studying under…”

            Stiles gave up trying to listen. His back itched. He thought wearing a shirt was making it worse. That would be his luck- finally allowed to wear a shirt and he actually hated it. Though maybe that was because it was kind of baggy on him. Though a tight one would be worse. Unless it acted like one big bandage? What was the difference, really, between a bandage and a really tight shirt? Maybe he could test that out someday. Of course, it was going to take him weeks to fill out even the smallest of shirts. Unless, he could steal one of Heather’s. She was pretty small. That could-

            “Stiles?” Harris’ voice cut through his thoughts. It was a slight question as if he could tell Stiles had been paying no attention. “You will be working with Ms. Grant in the kitchen. She will have more details about your duties and what she expects of you.” Stiles nodded, muttering something that could have been a “yessir” if you were being generous. Harris had already turned to Scott.

            “And, finally, you will be reporting to Mr. Deaton in the gardens.”

            Gardens, Stiles thought. Outdoors, flowers, manual labor. Not good.

            “Can we switch?” he asked before the thought was even fully formed. Scott couldn’t work outside. Not with gardening. Too many flowers and movement and they hadn’t managed to secure an inhaler in almost a year. The one he had was probably empty. Or expired. Expired! Stiles hadn’t even thought of that. He had to check that when he got back to the room.

            “What?” Harris sounded scandalized.

            “Switch?” Stiles repeated, waving a hand to stop Scott from saying anything. “Like, he works in the kitchen and I’ll take the gardens. I love gardening. Really. It’s one of my biggest passions. People have said I have a green thumb. Or fingers. Entire green hands right here.”

            Harris’ frown had turned stony. “Are you implying that you know more about your proper placement then your owners?”

            The answer was obviously no. Stiles knew that.

            “Well… yes,” he said. Scott groaned behind him. Stiles kept going, desperate. “I mean… they don’t really know anything about me. But I know me. And I know I’ve worked in gardens before-” Thank God Harris wasn’t a werewolf so he couldn’t hear what a lie that was. “So I know I’m really good at it. And so putting me there would just be economical really. Most bang for your buck. In fact, they would probably be grateful if you-”

            “That is enough,” Harris growled. His face was red and Stiles wondered briefly if he had pushed too far. He couldn’t actually get sold right away. The hand clamped and squeezing around his elbow seemed to agree. “You will not question the authority of the masters of this house. Is that clear?”

            “Uh-” Scott’s hand squeezed even tighter. “Yes.” Stiles dropped his head out of disappointment but tried to seem cowed. “Yes, sir. Right. Never again. Sir.”

            Harris continued to glare at him for a moment and then turned and motioned to someone waiting in the hallway. Scott took the opportunity to call Stiles an idiot with just his eyes. Stiles tried to convey that it had been worth a try. Scott remained firm on his point. Stiles conceded.

            “Isaac, please escort Scott to Deaton and let Mistress Cora know that her new lady’s maid is here to meet her, should she wish it.”

            “Sure thing, sir,” the boy replied. Stiles looked at him, trying to see any signs of what life was actually like here but the boy was tall and thin without looking sickly and seemed generally relaxed. He waved to Scott and walked out and Stiles was content to hope that he would be allowed to just head to the kitchens. Maybe snag a bite of food. Maybe more than a bite if his stomach could handle it.

            “Stiles,” Mr. Harris said, turning towards the door. “Master Derek has insisted that you see a physician.”

            Stiles froze, terror swamping his veins.

            “That’s-” he abruptly swallowed what he was going to say (That’s not necessary) when Harris looked back as if daring him to say the wrong thing. “Very generous.”

            Harris started walking and Stiles followed, trying to ignore the pounding of his heart in his ears and the way his vision seemed to fuzz around the edges. He was not having a panic attack right now. He wasn’t. It was just a trip to the doctor’s. Probably just to clean out the wounds in his back (unnecessary, Scott had already done that) or inspect how deep the scarring was on his chest (maybe necessary, he had pulled Scott’s haphazard stiches out himself and refused to let his friend anywhere near them). That would be all. Just a simple physical judging how weak or strong Stiles was or if he was healthy enough to fuck and that was no big deal.

            Stiles took a deep breath and forced himself to hold it, thankful that Harris was walking a head and didn’t seem inclined to glance behind him. He was okay. This was no problem. Nothing new. They had been owned by Matt for 16 months and Stiles was fine and Scott was happy and he could be happy again here. Different house. Different werewolf but same deal. And the deal was fine. Stiles wouldn’t complain.

End Part 1.